Escaping the Weight of My Race
Maybe you forget I was born like this.
Now that race is the zeitgeist, the not so subtle pressure is ever-present. Because of my skin colour, race and racism should proliferate through my writing. Most, if not all, of my pieces should speak to the injustices, the atrocities, the struggle.
But read through my articles and barely a hint of anything remotely related to race. Read my first novella and not a mention of skin colour.
Am I a sellout? Am I ignoring the present fight for freedom, fight for respect, fight for equal treatment? This is the dilemma. By not using my art to speak out about these things means I’m silent, or ignorant, or somehow not empathetic.
Like if I don’t remember the first time someone called my mother a nigger in front of her apartment door.
Like if I don’t remember my brother being made to feel like he didn’t belong in the gifted program in middle school.
As if I didn’t have to take my hood or my hat off when driving through the north part of Toronto as a teenager and young adult. Or I somehow didn’t notice being followed through the grocery store when my mom sent me to buy a few things.
Today, I am part of an incredibly talented writing team with combined credits that include Forbes, Vogue, Inc.com, Elle, Fortune, Lenny Letter, and many many more outstanding publications. When despite all of our credits, we still have to consider whether or not to put our pictures on our website so people don’t make assumptions about our capabilities, trust me, I live this. I lived it all my life.
This is normal stuff for me or anyone of colour. This is what I deal with everyday. Escaping the weight of my race is impossible because that is the lens through which I’m viewed first. I am not just a man, I am a black man. I am not just a writer, I am a black writer. I’m not just a father, I’m a black father. These labels are equally inescapable.
My goal, however, is to transcend that description. I am not just a black man, I am a good man. I am not just a black writer, I am a great writer. I am not just a black father, I am a proud parent.
My refusal to not infuse my writing with openly black struggle is my own choice. Having that choice is part of the freedom and respect and acknowledgement we have fought for, that I have fought for.
My writing is my own. My stories are crafted from my imagination and rooted in my experiences. Expecting me to create from the inside of a box is unfair and will never happen.
What will happen is that I will continue to write stories that speak to me. I will continue to have positive engagement with people inside and outside of my race and culture. I will continue to teach my daughter not to perpetuate any stereotypes through her language. We don’t say things like “my brother has a white wife.” I let her know that her uncle has a wonderful wife. That’s all there is to know.
I won’t apologize for any absence of race in my work. If you want to read about race, (and I’ve said this before), I can recommend some incredible authors.